October 2022 Archives

I woke up suddenly in the dark. There was somebody in the room with me. I heard Riley bark once, then go silent. The shape of a woman resolved itself in the closet door. It was dark, but she wasn't much bigger than I was. I grabbed for the little blaster in my bag, but she interrupted, "Don't bother with the blaster; it won't work on me anyway. How did you get it and what happened to my brother?"

"Your brother?" I replied. I hoped she had something to do with ScOsh, but wasn't certain.

"His name was Osh Scimtar. He probably called himself ScOsh. There is a Mindsword in this box that shows his pattern, but he wasn't known to have a Mindsword or be capable of forging one. It's inactive, which means he's dead, and you're operant with at least some training. Did you somehow manage to kill him?"

"First explain what you did to the dog and my parents!"

"They're asleep. Nobody is going to interrupt us. Now start explaining!"

"Oh, I am sorry!" It took a while for my brain to get going sometimes. "I knew there'd be people looking for him, but he told me there were so many people in the empire I never thought it would be family first. He gave me a log for the whomever it was. Have you found his log yet?" She gave a little noise towards the end of the sentence, which meant she had as soon as I mentioned it. I watched her face fall. She must have accessed something that told her ScOsh was dead. It was like a hammer hit her, but she maintained her presence of mind.

After that pause, "Are you Grace?"

"That's me," I replied. Since I hadn't yet given her a name, that meant she read it off the log or out of my mind.

"I'm sorry," she said, "But Osh was close to all of us. A surrogate father whenever Father was gone. I'm Anara Scimtar di Baryan. Call me ScAnara." Unlike ScOsh, she emphasized the connection enough that I caught the soft cee and figured out that the beginning was an informal patronymic of sorts. "To expect him to be here so I can harass him about an error he made, only he's gone, dead, it's just going to take a few moments. He thought a lot of you, evidently. Enough to leave instructions concerning you in his log. Would you like to come to the empire with us?"

"Yes, I would." I had already made up my mind on that score. "How long do I have?"

"We need to verify that he did kill all of the stons that were here. And we're going to run an astral survey, compute a temporal ephemeris, drop a beacon. As long as we're here, let's do what we need to in order to keep track of a planet with seven billion humans. That will also insure you can find your way back, incidentally. Eight hours at least. ScOsh's log says our hours are about one point seven of yours so thirteen and a half hours." I looked at my watch, just to be sure. It was 5 AM. I had until 6:30 tonight to say goodbye.

"Do I need to bring anything?"

"A couple days' worth of clothing might be prudent, but not necessary. Artificial environment shipboard." I turned on the light, and discovered that ScAnara looked nothing like ScOsh had. Her skin actually had a slight orange cast to it, and if she didn't have the brightest head of red hair I'd ever seen, it was close. She also had the build of the smaller, heavily built mindlords rather than ScOsh's tall and skinny. She was about five foot six, looked like she weighed maybe one-seventy, not fat, but rather the sort of muscles that come from hours at the gym. If you'd forced me to guess her ethnicity, I would have said Irish but her accent was pure California.

"Do you have time to wake my parents? I'm an adult, but talking with you might calm their fears."

"I have a few minutes, unless there's an alert."

I went down the hall and knocked on their door. "Papi? Mama, there's someone here you want to talk to."
It took them a minute to wake up, then, "What is it m'ija?" There was definitely sleep in Papi's voice. They were both in pajamas, sitting up in bed.

"This is ScOsh's sister, ScAnara. I'm going to be leaving with her tonight. I'm not certain when I'll be able to come back. Probably at least a couple years their time, maybe more of ours."

Papi: "Huh? Why? We just got you back!"

"Your daughter is operant sir," ScAnara replied, "She needs to learn how to use her abilities. Here, she will never learn it all on her own, there is too much to discover. But we've had billions like her and like me for a hundred thousand years. We've learned how to do a lot that she will never learn on her own, and how to pass it on. When she comes back, assuming she decides she wants to, she will be the start of a new era on your world. We don't die from old age or disease; she'll be able to bring that same knowledge to your world, along with many other things. Have you noticed a difference in your daughter?"

"Si," Papi replied, "She changed a lot since the last time. No glasses, and I haven't seen her fool with contacts either. It's like she suddenly spent two years working out in the space of three days. And maybe I'm getting old, but she seemed smarter and faster as well as younger." Mama also nodded.

"ScOsh did all of that for me in a few seconds Mama. I have to go learn so I can do it for others. And the things they can do - you saw, both of you. They can travel between galaxies and alternate dimensions in the twinkling of an eye. I have to go learn!"

"M'ija, are you sure this is alright?"

Remembering something he'd often said to Esteban when we were younger, "You mean 'tear my arm off and beat me to death with it', Papi? No, I'm not. But it's not because of anything like a cookbook called "To Serve Man" like that old TV show you showed us. It might not be right for me, but it's something I have to try. I'll never know the difference I could have made if I don't."

"It's going to be hard, m'ija, losing you again. Mama and I, we don't know how much longer we have. We don't know if we'll see you again."

"If I may," ScAnara interrupted, "ScOsh laid the responsibility he felt on the rest of our family. I will be happy to help you and any members of your family that come to see her off tonight. I can't promise you won't die in an accident, but I can make your body years younger, and clean out any lurking health issues your world can't help you with yet. If something does happen to you in an accident, you will have been healthy until then."

"Don't want to be young again," Papi said, "Young men are crazy. But twenty years younger, that would be good." "Si," Mama followed up, "Maybe that would be good for me, too. Can't be a grandma and look twenty, but feeling fifty instead of seventy, that would be good."

"How about I keep your appearance not much younger than now, but make you as healthy as younger people?"

"If you can do that, si," Papi replied, and Mama too, "Just not too much of the young man's hormones, please. I remember how it made me stupid."

A minute later, they were both standing in joy, with a great smile upon their faces. It was like the weight of the world had dropped from their shoulders. Neither looked that much different in terms that a camera would spot, but they held themselves like much younger people. "Oh, that feels good!" Papi exclaimed, and Mama nodded.

"I've moved you back to being about sixty years old on the inside, but mostly left your surface alone. There was some cancer in each of you, but now you should live to see your great grandchildren grow up." I let go of the sudden fear that clutched at me, but ScAnara said she'd taken care of it. "She means about forty-two, Papi. Their years are shorter than ours. ScOsh talked about making me thirty, and I got mad until we figured it out."

"Thank you, senora, from the bottom of our hearts. More precious than our health, we thank you for the time to maybe see our baby girl come home again."

"I will do the same for anyone who's here tonight," she said, "I won't make the children younger, but I will check them for anything deadly."

I think they both would have kissed her shoes at that, if she'd acted in any way like it was expected. Heck, I would have cleaned dog poo off her shoe with my tongue, if that had been the price. Happily.

Copyright 2014 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

No matter what the song says, it does rain in southern California. All the damn time in March of El Nino years.

The most recent storm had finished blowing through earlier that evening. I didn't like working after dark, but the compliance reports just couldn't wait any longer. My boss, "Call me George" Martinez, had informed me that the EPA was crawling all over him and that if the hazardous usage and disposal reports weren't completed by the time he got to work in the morning, I would be joining the ranks of the unemployed. In blue state basket case California, in the middle of the worst economy of the last eighty years. Jerk.

Overall, Riverside's not a bad town. I've got a small apartment not too far from the UC campus. The complex is full of students with a smattering of old fogeys too poor and too stubborn to leave, and working class stiffs, not to mention hybrids like me. The ones I've talked to were alright.

But this wasn't there. The warehouse sits in a commercial district near where the 91 dies and turns into the 215 at the 60 merge. There are some rough people nearby, in the old twenties and thirties housing they threw up back before tract housing. Tiny lots, old decaying houses, ancient plumbing and wiring, never updated. Paint cracked, chipped, and peeling. Calling them Craftsmen would be implying a level of charm that simply didn't exist. Streets jammed with old junker cars. Chain link fences, neglected lawns, junk left wherever someone dropped it because it was too much effort to clean up. An occasional abuela put in a few flowers that just made the rest of the neighborhood look even more pitiful. Rough people, mostly poor hispanics with the occasional white trash or black, human refuse that just didn't have what it took to get ahead in the world as it had become. Some were disabled, most simply never applied themselves much. Get a second or third generation in there, and you got some real gangbanging. Easy path to see, damned near impossible to make it work into a real life worth living. Enough to make me appreciate my parents, who escaped that world and made sure I knew enough not to fall back.

The gangs had been cooped up inside most of the previous ten days. El Nino storms came through one after another. Maybe they wouldn't drown or freeze you, but they were cold, wet, and miserable - at least by the standards of California weather. Nobody came out when it was raining without a good reason why they had to be out there and then, but once it stopped a light jacket would keep you warm, and the hoodies would be out looking to burn off some energy. It's not like they had anything better to do.

And here I was, a 28 year old woman leaving the building all by myself in the dark just after eight-thirty with no one around. Just bad luck the four guys in jackets walking up the other side of the street at the exact wrong time. No key to get back in - damn "Call me George" to hell. I picked up my pace. If I could get to my car - beater that it is - and lock the doors there was a chance I'd be able to drive away.

Mistake. The hoodies started to run. Now there was some effort in it for them, things were looking worse for me. Cell phone, you say? I could grab the phone and push the number to dial 911, but it wouldn't do me a bit of good. Typical response time was thirty minutes. By the time the cops showed up, it would be long over. I was about to do it anyway when it happened.

I swear on my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that this happened. He looked like an Angel of the Lord, minus the wings. Hanging up there in the air. Well, not hanging - he was falling, though not like he was getting pulled - more like he was riding an escalator that wasn't there. At least six five, thin as a rail, with a softly glowing sword of all the improbable things. Wearing what looked like some kind of uniform, dark with lighter trim, cut like nothing I'd ever seen.

I don't know what he did to call attention to himself, but all of a sudden the 'bangers noticed him. Not just the 'bangers, but everything's attention was wrenched towards him as if someone grabbed our heads, sunk hooks into our eyeballs and made us look. Right down to the rats in the dumpsters.

That was enough for the 'bangers. They hauled out their guns and started banging away. The visitor looked puzzled for an instant, then the sword vanished, and I saw a flash from him. Something in his hand - didn't did get a good look at what it was. The gang members fell over so fast it was over before I could twitch. Damn! The guy was fast. I'd never seen anything like that even in the movies.

One look showed four lifeless bodies with blood starting to pool. The visitor lit with catlike grace, apparently as unconcerned as if nothing had just happened. I had a decision to make, and I did. I jumped in my car and got the hell out of Dodge. I didn't want to be anywhere in the neighborhood when the cops finally got there. I didn't stop to say thanks, I definitely didn't talk to him, I just jumped in and went. I didn't slow down until I was home. I might have run a red light or two; I really couldn't tell you with any certainty.

Copyright 2013 Dan Melson. All Rights Reserved.

Once she was gone, I took advantage of being able to manipulate my own schedule and decided to head for the range. But twelve spare rounds beyond what was in the magazines wasn't going to get me much practice. Also, I wanted an instructor to critique me if there was one available, so I grabbed a bag for the ammunition I could pretend I'd stashed the pistol in. I chose Marv's, a store out in The Valley that had a range. Traffic was headed the other way, so it wasn't a problem to get there.

I didn't know the man at the counter when I arrived. I think it had been about five years since the last time I'd been here, so that wasn't unusual. "Hi, got any forty-five ACP?"

"Lucky dog! We just got a shipment - not even on the shelf yet!"

"What's it run?"

"Box of 50 or 250?"

I considered. I'd put out at least fifty rounds in practice if I had them, probably closer to a hundred. "Two hundred fifty."

He told me. I didn't bother trying not to wince. I could afford it, but it seemed the price jumps got worse every time, and this was worse than ever before. But I nodded.

"Need your driver's license."

"Here." He made his entries, rang up the sale. "Need to wait a few for the check to come back." The entry took long enough I knew there had to be a generous allowance for the clerk's time in the price. While waiting, he went back to what he'd been doing before. Finally, the computer beeped, he checked the screen and passed me my purchase. I was glad I already had an entry in the state system - otherwise it might have taken days.

"Range open yet?" It still lacked ten minutes to nine.

"Not officially. But Glinda's there, so she'll probably take you. Go over and knock."

So I did. A tiny woman of about forty answered. A true Californian, she was that shade of brown that could have come from any racial stock or all of them. Darker brown hair, jeans and a long-sleeved flannel shirt. The air leaking out from the range inside was noticeably colder than ambient.

"You must be Glinda. The man at the counter said to knock."

"Yeah, Mom's a Wizard of Oz fan. Come on in."

"I like your mom without ever meeting her," I said, showing the wedding ring to indicate it wasn't intended as flirtacious.

"That's Glinda The Good. I'm Glinda The Great."

"Nice. I'm Mark. Don't suppose you have an instructor here this early?"

"Long as no one else is here, I'll keep an eye on you. What's your issue?"

"Been a couple years since I shot. Want to check at least basic skills. Had a threat, so just in case. Need to rent ear protection."

She rang me up, handed me a pair of muffs. "Basic home defense?"

"Yeah."

"Okay, lane four, basic targets should be in the table. But how about you dry fire a few first?"

"Sure." If she wanted to save me money for ammunition, that was fine with me. I clipped the target, ran it out. "OK to draw?"

"Go ahead." I got the gun out of the holster.

"Nice rig. Didn't even notice it."

"Had it made special." She nodded.

I kept the weapon pointed downrange while I pulled the slide back to check the chamber, made certain it didn't feed while the slide went back forward. "We good?"

"Not bad for being a couple years out of practice. Go ahead."

I got into stance, pointed at the target, took it off safe, and pulled the trigger. The 'click' of the hammer falling echoed. I cocked the gun again, repeated the dry fire.

"You're jerking the trigger. Standard problem for someone coming back to it. Take up the slack and squeeze."

"Right." I repeated a couple more, taking up the slack then squeezing slow and steady.

"Better. Now if you want some advice, turn just a tad to your dominant side." She nodded at some pictures on the wall. She was prominently featured in several.

"Okay, will do."

"Don't want to overdo it. You need to be able to shoot anywhere you can see. But it helps with sighting and repetition."

"Ma'am, I know I don't remember everything I should."

"That puts you two steps up on most. Give me a couple more dry fires, tell me how it feels."

I complied. "Better. Seems it's easier to see where the gun is aimed."

"Good. Now we're ready for real ammunition. Go ahead." And she put her own hearing protection in. I put the muffs on my head. Not as good as what she had, but I wasn't going to be doing this all day, every day. The muffs changed the way you heard - I could hear my own breathing, and the pulse through my ears if I tried. I cycled a round into the chamber, took the same stance as I had a moment ago, watched for her nod before switching back to aiming the gun, took a breath, let it out partway, and pulled the trigger.

State of the Author

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Sorry but there's not much to report this time. Trying to finish "Gifts Of The Mother", but the damned day job is eating my lunch. It's always 70 hour weeks plus, but recently it's been worse. I get home and there is no energy for anything, and precious little time.

I know where I want the book to go, the characters even seem to be cooperating, but I've just been too worn to write. I will see what I can do about this.

Gates to Faerie is an urban fantasy setting. On one side is us, the Earth we know. On the other is an unknown parallel Earth inhabited by others, beings which are not quite human.

In between, are Gates consecrated by various beings which have some aspect of divinity in their nature. Think of them as being roughly equivalent to the Greco-Roman or Norse or Hindu deities. Most of these are known by their godhead: The Mother, Skyfather, The Huntress, The Lord of The Dead, The Smith, The Healer, among many others Each of them consecrates a Gate in a different way, and using different materials (The Mother uses arches of vegetation, the Smith, of metal, while Skyfather prefers actual doors and and The Lord Of the dead uses stone). Among these beings is The Mad God, whose cult furnishes the antagonists for the first novel, The Gates To Faerie.

Of the beings on the other side, thus far we have met the Elves the most. They are descendants of humans, who lost a war a long time ago, and were enslaved by some beings of elemental power who changed them in order to be able to survive in the same environments. The results were first, that they have developed certain powers of their own, and second, that their fertility is limited to the point where they have difficulty even keeping their numbers constant. There are seven breeds of Elf, the most noteworthy being the Elemental purebloods: Star (air), Bright (fire), West (earth) and Sea (water).

There are also known to be the Smith's People, who live in two different sorts of communities, depending upon temperament. Forest daimo live in forest hamlets or villages of no more than a couple hundred. They farm and create mostly from wood and other living things. Mountain daimo live in underground communities ranging up to thousands or possibly tens of thousands - it's hard for outsiders to get an accurate estimate. They mine, farm, and create mostly from metal or rock. They are physically identical, intermingle freely, and it is not uncommon for them to intermarry or for children of one daimo to decide they would rather live in the other - or alone, for that matter. They have talents in much the same way the Elves have powers.

Both Elves and Smith's People can (under some circumstances) produce offspring with base stock humans, and these offspring can be interfertile as well. Unfortunately, these offspring tend to face discrimination from both Elven and Smith People societies, as do Elves who are a mixture of two or more types.

 



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